Hunt for Successor 12:
King Cobra and the Fear Factor
The majority of African leaders treat Africa like a kid. When it is naughty they whip it. When it is obedient they give it sweets. In the process it becomes as numb as a frightened child, and develops no love for papa. Incensed, it denounces or ejects him. But it’s too late, the damage has been done. Africa is stifled—it is moribund and casualties are countless.
Our African leaders rule with an iron fist. They demand not love and respect but fear. We must fear them. We must surrender our entire mortality to them, regardless of our status in society. We must suck up to them for if we don’t they banish us.
In the human nature we allow one man to instill terror, dread, anxiety, horror, distress, fright, panic, alarm, trepidation, and apprehension into the inner core of our souls. Only he decides our fate. If we are disloyal we are flung into the chasm. And yet we voted for love and care.
Fear always finds its way to the apparatuses of African power. It creates demi-gods, tyrants, despots, autocrats, authoritarians, dictators, and totalitarians. It’s no fun to be an African cabinet minister or an ambassador. Such men and women toss and turn in bed 365 days. Words like “you are fired!” “You’ve been recalled!” cause a high fever and night sweats. They are afraid of their own shadows and suspicious of their juniors because it is in them you find the sharpest Okapi.
Some of the worst inflictors of fear include Mobutu, Bokassa, Idi Amin, and Gadhafi. These four men yoked their populations and then watched them die while they spent state wealth on personal indulgencies. Their spouses and children emulated them and exhibited narcissistic grandiosity of the worst kind.
It is believed that all these four toxic men suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the character traits of which include fragile self-esteem (cannot handle criticism and will therefore belittle or disparage others in an attempt to validate their own self-worth); taking advantage of others to achieve a goal; unable to cope with disagreements or criticism; exhibition of arrogant, haughty behavior or attitude; application of bullying and tormenting threats; suppression and imprisonment (even elimination) of opponents on tramped up charges; strutting false modesty while sublimating belligerence and hatreds; displaying the above-the-law syndrome; ignoring the needs and opinions of others; and associating themselves with other dictators around the world. What cured them was reality.
Then there was Hastings Kamuzu Banda the Malawian medical doctor who became president. He spoke no vernacular language, and ate no African food, raising a strong speculation that he was an African-American impostor whose real name was Richard Armstrong. On November 28, 1977 a Mail and Guardian reporter wrote under the title “Was Kamuzu and American Impostor” that the real Kamuzu died before completing his studies.
The reporter’s source is Harri Englund author of “Between God and Kamuzu,” an article that appears in the book “Post-colonial Identities in Africa” edited by Richard Werbner and Terence Ranger and on sale on Amazon.com. In it he writes “in order to succeed he [Kamuzu] had to reveal the identity to a small band of corroborators. With their help he bought “relatives” in Kasungu District. His relatives have been kept well paid ever since…”
True or false, Kamuzu was terror. He crowned himself life president, turned Malawi into a land of lambs and caused one of the biggest brain drains of a well-educated African nation.
“Well, how about our own KK?” I hear his critics asking. “He too ruled by fear and intimidation. We all feared him.”
True. But he was a far better leader than the aforesaid. Did he get close to demi-godliness? You bet! Wrapped in a pan-African chitenge he began well. We all adored, loved and respected him. When he waved his white handkerchief we felt at peace. When he promised an egg per day for all, we said that’s our man! We went around the world bragging that we came from Kaunda country. It’s no joke when I say that some people thought Kaunda was a country and Zambia was its president.
But as the story has been told many-a-time, KK cast the chitenge and put on Mao’s suit. His demeanor went east. He shortened his temper, smiled less and spoke in exasperated “humanistic” tongues. Like a samurai he somersaulted from one ministry to another firing his own men. If you ask the 1980s Governor of Lusaka to pick the most frightening moment of KK’s cabinet ministers, he would surely go for the press conference.
Here is a scenario:
A minister is having dinner (Nshima and T-bone) in his luxurious Kabulonga home when the booming voice of Kenneth Maduma knocks out his appetite: “Here is announcement. Tomorrow His Excellency the President will hold a press conference at State House at ten hours. All members of cabinet and members of the diplomatic corps should be seated by 9.30.”
“What!” The minister jumps out of his seat.
“A press conference tomorrow,” the wife reaffirms.
“Jesus! It can’t be. We just had one two weeks ago. He’s targeting me, I know. Someone saw me with Shimpundu in Kamwala. Oh God, what do I do now? Where will we go? How much is in the account?”
“Two hundred Kwacha.”
“Only? Oweee lesa wandi (oh, my god).”
My doctor friends tell me that the announcement produced the highest cases of hypertension. For some it was time to seek help from the shaman or swallow some bitter concoction imported from Malawi, and for others hyena teeth around their necks kept bad luck at bay. No kidding.
The following day at 10 o’clock, KK emerges, six feet of ebony with white handkerchief in hand. Frightened hearts beat as one. With quivering voices, ministers massacre the national anthem—croaking like a mighty choir of frogs.
“You may be seated comrades,” KK says. A martinet, he does a quick search to make sure all are present.
The State House gardens are dead silent let for the sound of peacocks.
“Comrades,” KK begins. “Last time I informed the nation that I would rather resign than lead a nation of drunks. I warned all my leaders to refrain from drinking, to set a good example. But I continue to receive disturbing reports that some of you have continued to drink heavily. In light of all this, I’ve decided to act and my action should serve as a final warning to you all. Today, I am dropping Comrade Cosmos Chibanda. The young man has taken to the bottle and my warnings have fallen on deaf ears. I’m also dropping Sefelino Mulenga and demoting …”
Question time was just as frightening.
“My name is Charles Chipanta from Times of Zambia. Your Excellency our economy is getting worse. You have gone ahead and borrowed from IMF. Do we have the capacity to pay back?”
“What kind of question is that?” KK explodes. “Who said I have borrowed, eh? Stupid idiot…!”
That was KK of the 70s and 80s. His cohorts, the governor included, saw him as a dictator who washed their dirty linen in public. They began to hide it. Each time KK visited UTH, they swept and disinfected the floors, cleaned the windows, changed all sheets and blankets, and put a smile on the patients. When he asked Gray Zulu or Mainza Chona how things were around the country, they fearfully replied: “Great, Your Excellency!”
The governor resigned and befriended FTJ. But the governor was also known to be aggressive and abrasive. Many pundits and some of his critics, say that he spat his venom in people’s eyes on his way to the top hence the designate King Cobra; that he cleaned up the streets, patched roadways and built bridges in dictatorial style.
Some and they are quite a number, say that he ruled his party with an iron fist and ran his campaign based solely on fear and fallacies. They add that he took advantage of the marginalized and unemployed youth and falsely promised to put money in their pockets. His victims referred to him as a tormenter, oppressor, persecutor, and tyrant. During the campaign his political opponents described him as a prophet of doom, a “crafty, arrogant and unfeeling politician with dictatorial tendencies—a mambala.”
The governor is now our president. His opponents and critics still think he has not shaded off the old “mambala” skin. By associating himself with Robert Mugabe he is taking a DIC101 freshman course. They accuse him of surrounding himself with codependents, enablers and followers who are third term jugglers. They refer to Wynter’s trip to Zimbabwe as a hors d’oeuvre—a writing on the wall. The man will not relinquish power, they are saying.
On the other hand, his loyalists, pacifists, optimists and beneficiaries say that he’s a changed man and he is on course. They say he has toned down his rhetoric and has made important decisions, including non-partisan appointments. They insist that he surrounds himself with eclectic people who are known for thinking development—veterans of commerce and finance, optimistic activists, and innovative policy thinkers.
No matter what people say, King Cobra is the torchbearer who is projecting our country into the limelight with regard to democracy. We shall respect but not fear him. If he undermines our intelligence and embraces the stereotypical undemocratic rule that degenerates into abuse of power and authoritarianism, we shall confront him head-on. If he instills fear and treats us like kids, we shall treat him like an abusive dad and avoid him.
If King Cobra’s PF models after ZANU-PF it will do so at its own peril. And if he joins existing African dictators and attempts to rule eternally, his legacy will be blemished for eternity. We rejected KK and FTJ. We have the stomach to do it again. Moreover, dictatorship is becoming a very dangerous preoccupation nowadays.
But if King Cobra reciprocates with love and respect for the people of Zambia, and that’s our prayer, we shall respect and love him back for we are gullible. If he serves his one or two terms and allows YOU the youthful successor to transit from “Middle Age” to the cyber age, we shall record in our compendiums that a man called King Cobra came, reigned, and conquered. That he proved his critics and opponents wrong.
Please Note: The adulterated title “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum” bearing my article and circulating on the Internet was not created by me. Also, my articles are not for sale. All readers are advised not to pay for any of my articles online. Plagiarism is prohibited. Those who confine plagiarism to only the use of one’s work without credit must find a detailed definition that includes literally theft in order to grasp the full implication.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History.